When I was a little girl, I dreamed of riding horses. I remember fashioning riding stables out of snow in the wintertime and galloping around the school yard with my friends. I remember riding a spring-horse at my cousin Jeff’s house, rocking forward and back so hard, it’s a wonder the springs didn’t snap. I read about horses, sketched horses, dreamt of horses; but, I never rode.
When my own daughters turned 7 and 9, they began riding lessons at a nearby stable, and the younger one, soon enough, was riding three times a week, jumping fences and competing in local horse shows. Having never actually spent time with horses myself- except in my mind’s eye –I was nervous around them. These are thousand-pound animals, after all, creatures of prey, prone to fear and flight (as am I,for that matter, my own childhood sense of adventure having long since given way to adult anxiety). So, over the years, I’ve taken the occasional riding lesson, in order to temper my nervousness, and to be better able to help my daughter when I’m on the ground.
When my now fourteen year old daughter returned to the stable this summer, I joined her. We share lesson time, and while she jumps courses with confidence, I flail around at a trot trying to figure out the correct posting diagonal. I make every beginner mistake: setting my horse up on the wrong side of the mounting block, putting my half-chaps on backwards,not to mention the saddle (okay, I would have figured that out soon enough). I have no natural feel for riding at all, even after all these years watching my daughter.
It is a humbling experience, to say the least.
But every so often, something goes right. I bridle the horse unassisted; I am able to keep my leg on, and maintain the horse’s speed; I catch myself tilting sideways on a turn and make the correction before the coach prompts me. And then, one day, miraculously, I canter an entire lap of the arena. All the while the coach is shouting, “You got it! You got it! Keep going!” and I don’t know who is more astonished, her or me.
When I started riding again, I saddled up primarily for my daughter’s sake, motivated to spend time with her doing something she liked to do. Lately, another impulse has begun to take hold, a new energy is stirring and shifting with all those little victories. On horseback, I am able to scratch away at my adult exterior, to find the little girl who is still lives inside of me, the one who wanted to ride horses so long ago. That child’s dream, long since buried under years of study, and work, and taking responsibility, has suddenly resurfaced. Tentatively, to be sure, but resurfaced all the same.
And so now I look forward to our trips to the stable. I am no longer standing on the sidelines shifting from one foot to the other, nor am I dropping my daughter off and driving away to run errands. I am saddling up, too. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll actually gallop with confidence, or fly over a fence, heels down, eyes forward. Maybe there is a way back to childhood and maybe, just maybe, it’s on horseback.